I selected the Novotel Balikpapan for this review for its good location, low rates and good reputation by other travelers. The Novotel Balikpapan is located right in the modern center of the city near the Plaza Balikapan and Oceans Resto.
Check-in was confused and lengthy as in most hotels in Indonesia. The WiFi login page would not come up and all I could do is sit down and be patient. I booked a flexible rate at booking.com for under $25 incl. taxes and fees. I wasn’t sure it would be honored (Balikpapan hotels can be cheap but this was VERY cheap) but it never even came up.
Once I had my keys I was positively surprised. The room was rather big and in great shape. It felt more like a Hyatt Regency and was certainly above the level I experienced at the Novotel Bandung (REVIEW) a week before. The AC worked well though it wasn’t easy to throttle it. The Internet would come in at 6 Mbit and was stable – it would just slow down to a crawl every day between noon and 6 PM.
The bathroom was a little tired but the shower pressure excellent and all amenities worked exactly as they should. I found the mattress firm (which I like) and I slept like a baby every night. My room neighbors were a little loud but they would usually calm down come 11 PM.
The pool looks gorgeous and is indeed gorgeous. Great water quality and I found it deserted almost all the time. The lounge chairs are rusty and not well maintained but hey the view and some sun rays in peace are hard to beat in this hectic country.
The spa next door has all sorts of treatments but is on the expensive side for Indonesia with most massages starting at US$25.
Since options are limited I decided to buy a pastry and espresso every morning at the lobby bar. At just $4 that was a great deal and the quality was good enough to have me come back. Lunch and dinner options looked pretty ok too.
Some things are annoying – the hotel elevators were constantly overwhelmed (only two out of three worked) and went as slow as possible. If a big group checked in you would have to wait 30 minutes. There are no stairs to go to your room (you can only go down, not up).
The gym had a lot of equipment but most ellipticals and the rowing machine were plain broken (and dangerous). The gym was almost constantly crowded with local fitness pros who seemingly spend a few hours every day (so it seemed to me). They brought their own music (that was good!) but a Golds Gym is less crazy than this place.
In general the staff were friendly but completely clueless. This isn’t just a language issue as my limited Bahasa made me believe. I swear an 8 year old in the US would have been more adept at doing this job than local employees. I understand a hotel needs to keep costs down but at least someone needs to know how to do anything useful?
In a sum this hotel could be excellent with just a few fixes. The rooms are great, the internet faster than anywhere in Indonesia, the food options solid and affordable. The pool and spa are great and the gym solid though crowded. The hotel often posts rates under $20 (!) on Expedia (prepaid) – this is insane value!